Burundi's crisis worsens

News and Press Release
Originally published
The central African nation of Burundi has been torn apart by a six-year civil war pitting Hutu insurgents against the Tutsi-led government and military. At least two-hundred thousand people, most of them civilians, have been killed since 1993. And now the humanitarian crisis in Burundi is getting worse.

Over three-hundred thousand civilians have been forcibly relocated by the government to a rural province near the capital. The government says the camps are designed to keep civilians safe from the fighting. But international aid officials report conditions in the camps are poor.

There is little shelter, little clean water, inadequate sanitation, and a lack of food. Drought conditions are also developing, which will make the problem even worse. Humanitarian workers must be guaranteed security and access to these camps.

The death of Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, who was leading peace efforts, temporarily halted the Burundi negotiations. Former South African President Nelson Mandela has agreed to become the new mediator between the government and rebel groups. This is encouraging. A renewed negotiating process could become the foundation for all-party talks leading to a final agreement.

In the meantime, both the government and rebel forces in Burundi need to respect the human rights of non-combatants. Under international law, combatants are prohibited from targeting civilians, journalists, human rights investigators, and humanitarian workers who do not take part in the hostilities. Respecting the rights of non-combatants also means providing humanitarian assistance to those who need it and addressing the question of forcible relocation.

The most important step for all parties in Burundi is to continue the negotiations with the goal of reaching a political settlement. The people of Burundi must have peace if they are to have any hope of achieving a better life.